Oh Canada, an exhibition of Canadian contemporary art by the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) and featuring prominent OCAD U alumni, opened in Atlantic Canada in time for Canada Day.
Because of its size the exhibition is spread across four galleries (Balerie d’art Louise-et-Reuben-Cohen, Université de Moncton and Galerie Sans Nom in Moncton, NB, the Owens Art Gallery, Mount Allison University in Sackville, NB and the Confederation Centre Art Gallery in Charlottetown, P.E.I). It runs from June 26 to September 21 in Atlantic Canada, and then tours to Calgary to be remounted in multiple galleries there beginning January 31, 2015.
Oh Canada was curated by Denise Markonish at MASS MoCA. Prior to the exhibition premiere in Massachusetts in 2012, Markonish traveled across Canada visiting individual artist studios to select works for the exhibition. Among the 61 Canadian artists and collectives in the show are OCAD U honourary doctor Douglas Coupland, former faculty member Ed Pien and alumni Rebecca Belmore, Shary Boyle, Kristan Horton, Garry Neill Kennedy, Michael Snow and Hans Wendt.
Not only is this one of the biggest Canadian contemporary art exhibitions ever collected outside the country, it’s also one of the most diverse and wide ranging, spanning multiple generations and all media. At the same time, Markonish, as an American, brought a fresh perspective to her selections. One of her goals was to help answer the question, “what are some of the distinguishing characteristics of art made in the country?” Markonish views the Canadian tour as an opportunity for a home turf celebration of Canadian contemporary art.
We talked to Markonish about her inspiration and intention for the show, and what it means to her to take it on tour:
OCAD U: Where did your idea for this exhibition come from, and what was it like for you to tour Canada and visit studios across the country to select works for the exhibition?
Markonish: I first came up with the idea for this exhibition in 2007 and it came from looking at the art world and realizing that I knew more artists from China than from Canada. I found this to be strange considering Canada is our nearest neighbor. I decided that I wanted to dig deeper so I embarked on an epic research project, contacting curators, gallerists and artists in Canada and eventually compiling a list of over 800 artists. Then over the course of about four years I traveled across Canada to visit 400 of them.
OCAD U: What was your focus when selecting works for the exhibition?
Markonish: Getting to see that much art along with that much of a country was a vast learning experience — in some ways I feel like I know Canada better than the US since I have seen more of it. I feel like in taking the time to see so many artists it helped me build a clear picture of the art being made across Canada and how varied it is. I didn’t have any specific criteria when selecting work, just that it was important for me that this show fit together as a whole and was an engaging exhibition of great art — that just happens to be Canadian. It wasn’t about nationalism, just as it wasn’t about the great Canadian artists with big international profiles already. I wanted there to be a sense of discovery for visitors from anywhere.
OCAD U: Did you happen to make it to OCAD U on your Canadian trek?
Markonish: I have been to OCAD U and visited with many faculty and past students. The Canadian art college system is quite impressive to me.
OCAD U: Are there any other Canadian dates and locations planned?
Markonish: Not at the moment. It is difficult for many institutions to take a show like this — 20,000 square feet with 60 artists and over 100 art works. At both the Maritimes stop and in Calgary the show is being split among four venues. In many ways this is interesting as well as it allows for venues in proximity to each other to work together. This was a great idea that came out of a conversation I had early on with Pan Wendt at the Confederation Centre in PEI who was one the first to sign on to do this show.
OCAD U: Do you plan to continue your focus on Canadian art?
Markonish: Even when this exhibition tour is complete, it will not end my engagement with contemporary Canadian art. For instance I am working on an exhibition for 2016 that Calgary-based artist Jason DeHaan will be in and in October I will be one of the curators of Nuit Blanche in Toronto, and OCAD U Faculty member Derek Liddington will be part of that.
Oh Canada East
New York Times review